Buying the Right Games: Reviews vs. Let’s Plays
In today’s world, there are too many games for anybody to play all of them. With the pretty consistent stream of AAA releases in recent years, and a flood of high-quality indie games always available, gamers definitely have an overload in entertainment.
So, gamers have to be choosy with what games they buy and play. The problem comes from how to decide what to get. There are two major methods to informing about a game: reading or watching a review and watching a Let’s Play of it. Both are valuable sources to educate gamers about the qualities of specific games, so here are some pros and cons for both.
Pros for Reviews
Getting a professional opinion for a product is a standard practice as consumers are becoming more discerning about what they buy. Every entertainment medium has critics that have the experience and knowledge to properly review what’s coming out to help inform consumers. Gaming is no different.
Professional reviews often provide a good summary of a game. They explain what kind of game it is, how good the gameplay is, maybe a small outline of the story, and cover any flaws the game might have. Reviews are often short articles or videos that can give a good general impression of a game without showing too much.
Depending on the type of reviewer, you can get an opinion of the game while avoiding spoilers. Some might choose to talk about late or end of game elements if it’s particularly good or bad, but many try to remain vague to avoid spoiling it.
One major bonus is that a review is typically written after playing a game. In an ideal situation, it would be crafted after the entire game is beaten so the reviewer can evaluate the game as a whole product.
Cons for Reviews
Who qualifies to be a game reviewer? For other entertainment media, a critic typically needs to have extensive knowledge in the field. A movie critic usually has gone to film school. A book reviewer typically has editing and writing experience and an education. But for a game reviewer, there isn’t a clear set of criteria for who qualifies.
For most publications, reviewers aren’t required to have experience in game design — but they do usually require a background in journalism or writing. One would assume that being good at games, in general, would be important too, but not for some gaming publications. One example that comes to mind is one reviewer doing a gameplay video on Doom, but who is clearly unfamiliar with first person shooter game mechanics.
Another problem with reviews is the subjective nature of video games and the personal preferences of the reviewers. A person who loves action games but despises strategy ones probably won’t give fair scores to the latter genre. If a reviewer is a fan of a franchise, they might be willing to overlook flaws and give a better score than it actually deserves.
Also, let’s talk about the issues with scoring games. A major problem with game reviews is often an entire game is boiled down to a score out of five, or 10, or a 100. There is often no industry formula that goes into the score and might not even truly reflect the game experience they had. A person might love a game, but there are clearly problems with the game like bugs, yet they still give a perfect score to the game.
One of the above pros is that a review is typically done after they have played the game, but since reviewers are so busy, some can’t play the entire game before having to write the reviews. There are even some instances where they can only spend a few hours with a game before having to write a review.
Pros for Let’s Plays
For the purpose of simplicity, let’s group Let’s Plays and streaming games together as one category, since the only difference is what video platforms they are on and whether the gameplay is live or not.
Unlike reviews, Let’s Plays are typically just a person (or a group of people) playing through a game and giving their honest impressions. Watchers experience the game through them and, instead of seeing selected bits of gameplay, see the game more in its entirety.
That experience includes things like the story, gameplay, music, and whatever flaws a game might have. There are even some Let’s Plays that don’t have narration by the player, for people who want to experience the game without an outside personality messing with it.
A lot of Let’s Players specialize in specific games and might be open about what kinds of games they like. Unlike gaming journalists, who are sometimes assigned games to review, Let’s Players get to choose what games they play.
Cons for Let’s Plays
It is possible to be misled by a Let’s Play, especially if the person playing has a likable or funny personality. Many popular Let’s Players and streamers specialize in playing bad games, or just unfinished games still in development, and make the experience enjoyable. It’s entertaining to watch them, but it probably won’t be fun to actually play those bad games.
Another con is that watching a game and playing a game are different experiences. Some games might be extremely fun to watch but not as much to play, and vice versa. A strategy heavy game like Civilization might not be fun to watch because of its slower pace and focus on planning, but clearly many people find it to be a fun game. On the other hand, a flashy, exciting game might be a blast to watch, but broken mechanics might make it terrible to actually play.
Another problem with using Let’s Plays to make decisions is that unless you watch an entire playthrough, you don’t get an impression of the whole game. The parts you watch could be really fun, but the Let’s Player might have cut out the grinding aspects of the game, or you don’t see later sections of the game, which could be terrible.
Finally, a major problem is seeing spoilers. You are literally watching a person play the game, so you are going to see spoilers. Because you don’t know when a spoiler might come up, and unless the player prefaces their videos with spoiler warnings, an aspect of a game’s plot could be ruined.
Spreading Your Own Opinion
As mentioned above, there is no requirement to becoming a game reviewer or a Let’s Player. Many people get their start by simply posting their own reviews on games and building a following.
If you want to start your writing your own reviews, you can either find a site looking for writers or you can build and start your own site. Write the kinds of reviews and articles you want to see and be a part of the industry. If you want to make video reviews, then you might need some video editing tools. Even if you don’t think you are a good writer, don’t let that push you away. There are tons of resources on becoming a better writer, and writing a review is much different than writing for school.
Maybe you would rather start streaming, or create a Let’s Play channel? Start a YouTube channel and get the necessary tools to make videos. There are tons of editing tools that are affordable (or even free) and easy to use. It will also be necessary to capture gameplay with a capture card or have strong enough internet to stream, so the initial barrier to this might be a little tougher.
Becoming an Informed Consumer
The key to buying the right games comes down to two things: understanding what kinds of games you like, and learning to critically analyze information sources on games. Look at multiple different sources to learn if you would like a game, including reviews, let’s plays, and demos (if available).
Never take a single review as the ultimate authority on a game, since games are subjective and you might like what another person didn’t. Take things like scores with a grain of salt and remember that a lot of what you see and hear are opinions.
A great practice is to find several different people whose opinions you trust and have similar tastes to you. As they try out different games, you get the opportunity to weed out games you might not like and find gems you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This could be a mix of reviewers, Let’s Players, and friends. With this approach, you can get the best of all worlds in gaming.